VS 056 Talking About Truth

Varanis — 1626 0699 Truth

????, Fire Season, Season/Movement Week


Context

Fire Season/Movement Week/Freezeday/Afternoon [[[s01:session-38|Session 38]]]
After the events of the second Lunar quest, most of the group is sitting in the common room of the White Grape, drinking Rondrik’s alcohol and pondering recent events.

Events
Varanis comes downstairs, having disappeared in that direction a short while ago. Her expression is vaguely sad, though she tries to hide it.

Berra has a cup of beer, and her back to the wall, and a thoughtful expression. Her frown is enough part of her to be just decoration, and it might hide something truly deep and elegant about Death, or her next question might be why toes are so short. It is her thinking face.

“How are you feeling, Berra?”

Berra gives Varanis a quick look, and a smile. “Pretty good, in fact,” she admits. “It’s good to have something to think on.”

“It’s good to hear that,” the Vingan replies.

Berra sighs slightly. “I wish I knew more about how writing works. I want to know what the High Sword did when he was young, in that Temple.”

Varanis looks at her curiously. “What do you mean, how it works? You shape the letters to make the words. And you record the words in order to make the sentences.”

Berra stares. “I’ve seen it done. But if you write down words that are not true, is that a lie?”

“If you speak words that are not true, is it a lie?” Varanis counters.

“Well, yes. If you know it to be so. But I didn’t know if it was the same for writing.”

“How could it not be so? Words are words.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how writing works like that. I mean… maybe it was a mystery I couldn’t understand.” Berra shrugs it off, and falls silent.

Varanis stares into her cup. Finally, she asks, “Did we do well today?”

Berra gives Varanis an odd look. “I don’t even know why you’re asking,” she admits. “Yes. Obviously.”

Varanis shrugs. “It was… unpleasant.”

Berra sighs. “Playing the enemy is never good. It … you have to remember that you are there for a reason. But we got him away, and I was trying to stop him, so it’s real. And he’s alive and he’s remembered things. We did what we were after. One of the two plans happened. So yes, we did well.”

There’s no reply for a long moment. Finally Varanis says, “I stayed out of the way and did what I was told. Things seemed to work better that way.”

“Oh. Right. Now I understand. Yes, but they didn’t work better because you stayed out of the way. They worked better because we had a plan and knew what was going on. Shall we take a walk?” Berra swigs back the rest of her beer.

With an abrupt nod, Varanis rises and takes both of their cups to Rondrik’s counter. She meets Berra at the door, pausing there.

Berra is already at the door, bouncing on her toes like she wants to be running, but she does not set out at high speed. Rather, she attempts her usual spell to detect enemies. A splutter in her voice and an irritated look indicate she got it wrong, but she sighs, and calms herself, and says, “I’ll do it. One moment.”

Varanis says nothing, simply waiting.

The spell goes off nicely, the second time around, and Berra opens the door, takes a casual-looking glance around, and steps outside. A moment later she says, “Clear.”

Varanis follows obediently, looking around as she steps through the door. “Which direction?” she asks.

Berra nods across the road, goes that way, and says, “It does not really matter. Just being out and moving is good. What’s the matter?”

Varanis considers. “A lot,” she admits finally. “I’m trying to decide where to start. From the beginning, I have felt like I was supposed to be a leader here, but I have repeatedly failed. Moreover, no one really wanted or even needed me to be their leader anyway. From the outside, people seem to assume I am in charge, but the reality of it is that I can barely govern myself.” The Vingan is very subdued as she speaks.

Berra sighs. “Riiiiiight. You have a bad case of being young and noble.”

“I thought I was doing better. I tried to listen and learn, I truly did, Berra. But I have made things worse somehow. I know you don’t like him, but he’s my cousin and I have lost his trust entirely.” Though she doesn’t say who she is speaking about, it’s pretty obvious.

“Who? Dormal? That’s fine. He’s untrustworthy anyhow. And probably using the lack of trust to make you feel bad. He tried that sort of thing on me, too. For a while, it made me feel bad.” Berra looks very irritated by that, a glare that is more than just thoughtfulness.

“Irillo is also angry with me. Xenofos is just doing his duty. Serala thinks I’m an idiot… so it’s not just Dormal, is it?”

“So, let’s start with Dormal, because he’s easy. I know how he lies. Why do you think that the lack of trust is new? What caused it? What did he say?” Berra rolls back her shoulders like she is about to take on some new fight, or climb, or task.

“I tried to hit him, on nothing other than your say so,” she answers promptly. “It was impulsive and wrong. He hadn’t really done anything to deserve being struck.”

“Well, if I had said to you ‘hit Rajar’ he would not have noticed. He had done something worthy of being shut up, though. He had, yet again, tried to define the world differently from Truth. And I’m glad you know now that he does not trust you – because you cannot trust him. Don’t try to win that back. I mean, I just meant ‘hit him like you would with Rajar to get his attention’, but I’d punch that man a lot more if I could. He poisons the world by being in it. So in that situation again? I’d just hope you knew what I meant. But he did need to be shut up. He needs it a lot.”

Varanis shakes her head. “I’m not going to agree with you about him, Berra. Not entirely. He tells me that he is not going to sabotage the quest and that when he has information I need, he will tell me. I believe him.” She sighs. “But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that I am unfit for the position I am in and I need to change that, since it seems that there’s no way to free the rest of you from my fate.”

“Oh, I believe him. I mean, he’s scum, but he’s… he does what he thinks needs to be done. But now he’s blaming you AND me for this, so he can use the blame against you. You didn’t try to hit him for no reason. So when you did, were you trying to earn my approval, or were you thinking it was fun, or what? What if anything was in your mind, when you did what I asked?” Berra stops for a moment, in place, her left hand working on empty air like she wants to grab it, her right down by her side. Everything about her says movement, arrested. She adds then, “Take your time if you like.”

Varanis thinks, scowling a little as she does so. Finally, she says, “it feels like a long time ago already and I can’t remember what I was thinking. It’s possible that I was seeking approval from you, but I don’t remember.” She shrugs, frustration writ in the tight lines of her expression.

“Right. So if it’s a long time for you, it’s a long time for him, too. What he saw was someone he can’t stand, and who his lies can’t drag down, using you as a weapon. But that’s fine. He’d lie to you to gain advantage anyhow. That’s just the point where he knew he didn’t have it any more. That’s not when he stopped trusting you. It’s where there’s a thing he can use to make you think he stopped trusting you then.”

Varanis sighs. “The problems I’m having with Dormal are only a small part of this,” she says. “I shouldn’t have led with them. Let me start again.”

“No, that’s one part of it. I started with that because they are easy, but he is one of the things cutting you down. Did you apologise to him?” Berra starts moving again, a bouncy walk where the bounce is the only thing that keeps her stride length short.

“Yes, more than once. But they are just words and cannot repair damage caused by action.” Her words contain sincere regret. “He hasn’t said that he was hurt by my actions, but I can see it in his face and hear it in his words. This isn’t about him trying to manipulate me. It’s real.”

Berra says, “No. Really. He’s a liar, and he’s good at it. And he persuades himself. But what I mean is, he made you apologise, and he didn’t give a fuck, and now he’s performing ‘Dormal is hurt’ so you keep running after him. If I broke your heart and then told you it was your fault, would you keep running after me to stop the pain, or would you find someone who didn’t keep on feeding you little bits of hope and then kicking you?”

“Berra, I betrayed him, not the other way around.”

“No, you didn’t. I mean, I hit my siblings all the damned time. And now he’s making you crawl, and every time you say sorry, or feel that you need to make him feel better, his hold gets stronger. Every time you abase yourself, every time you tell yourself you are wrong, his lies get closer to your heart. You didn’t betray him. You took a swing at him. And I bet you, that you’ve lost more sleep than he has. He does not care, not one little bit, for your sorrow – except as a tool.”

“I will think on what you are saying,” Varanis replies at length. “But I also need to think on how I should be acting among the rest of our people. How can I be a leader if I am not wanted as such? And should I be trying? Or is there another way to achieve what I have promised without trying to lead?”

Berra sighs slowly, tension running out of her. She unbuckles her water bottle, her left hand sure and steady. “Many, many things. For one, you don’t need to lead, to be a leader. Because the word means many things.”

Varanis listens intently.

Berra takes out the bung with her teeth, glancing upwards at Yelm as it comes out with a popping sound. “Praxians, and Grazelanders, don’t understand what it is to be Orlanthi, or Heortling,” she says. “Do you remember when I thought you were a spy? That you were being pushed in from outside? They think that’s happening, because they don’t know what Orlanth is. That’s… not an easy problem, but being Vingan and noble isn’t your fault. It’s what you are. If they have a problem it’s because they don’t know why Orlanth rules, because where they are from, he doesn’t.”

“I can’t change who or what they are,” Varanis says. “And why should they follow me? It’s not their way.”

“Well, if you want to despair, I can probably find a Hero Quest for that.” Berra takes a drink.

Varanis laughs wryly. “If I were determined to succumb to despair, I’d just make my way to Snakepipe Hollow. I considered it, but decided against it. I also considered jumping off a building or picking a fight with Rajar.” She shakes her head. “I sort of did that, but not in the way I thought about.” She trails off a moment, her expression a little grim. “But I slept and I thought, and I know it’s not the answer I was really seeking. Instead, I need to find a way to move forward, to protect our people as best I can, to respect the choices that they make, and to be worthy of my tasks.”

Berra genuinely smiles. “Well done. But there is a thing I just tried to do, that sort of worked, that is also what you are trying. But excuse me…” She takes a mouthful of water, swills it around, and spits it out into the street. “That’s better. Even saying it tasted terrible. What I did there was define the conversation without adding to it. I made you respond to it, not to the thing I was avoiding saying, whatever that was. And you followed it. It’s not the way of Truth, though. That’s illusion. We must beware when we believe things, that they are not just us saying that a thing is so. So I’m not going to believe that you cannot change who or what a person is, or that a person’s way isn’t to follow – because your whole question of why they should follow you then becomes based on you believing in following and leading, and in their nature. You’re… fighting yourself. And you’re losing.”

Varanis looks confused. “Some parts of what you say make sense to me, but I have to admit that I don’t understand all of it. How does my understanding of following and leading not connect to this? And why am I meant to lead when Serala’s line is as pure or more so than my own? She is no one’s follower.”

“Because this is Sartar. She’s the one who doesn’t belong, not you. If you went to the grazelands, your lineage would not fit you for leadership there – but hers would. Here, you are Orlanth. As much as I am Humakt. Orlanth is more important here than anywhere else – and they just don’t understand that. Which is a different problem to the one you think you’ve got.”

Varanis nods thoughtfully. “And if I am meant to lead here, how do I do so in a way that doesn’t alienate the others? I am trying to be worthy of my rank and responsibilities, but I am repeatedly failing. Serala sees only the moments when I act on impulse, but of course she can’t see the impulses I quash. Because I have made mistakes, she doesn’t respect me and I don’t know how to earn her respect.” She pauses, but before Berra can speak, she adds, “Finarvi will lead where she follows, I think. Nala will only respect me if I somehow prove myself able to survive on my own in Prax, and we both know that will never happen. I’ve been to Prax and I’d die on my own there. Rajar? I don’t know. I’m not sure if he respects anything beyond his god and his axe. I’m not sure I could ever earn that from him, but perhaps it’s not necessary.”

“I think I understand that. Nobody ever sees the times I don’t argue. But start by questioning even these assumptions. Do you need to lead them, or do you need them to do what is right, or necessary? Because right now there is one big thing ahead of us, and one big thing we are doing.” Berra looks up towards her Temple, uphill, and bows shallowly. “The Household of Death. I never thought it could be again, but it’s… well, it’s a…. I don’t even have words for it.”

Varanis follows Berra’s gaze. She doesn’t answer immediately, processing the question. “I need them to do what is right. We did that today, and it didn’t really require me at all. I sat back and let others take the lead and it worked. And that circles us back to where we started. What use am I? This isn’t despair speaking. I’m not seeking praise or reassurance. I’m struggling to understand what I have to offer besides my bloodline. I can speak well. I handle a sword as well as some, but not as well as others. Others are better at planning and leading action.” Suddenly, Varanis looks impatient. “Enough of this. I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself. Tell me, what happens if we find the relics?”

“Oh, no. I don’t know that. But I just worked out your answer. Here, you’re Orlanth. If you were Orlanth Rex, you wouldn’t be commanding the Grazelanders. You’d be allying with them, against the Lunars. The same with the Praxians. So that’s why it’s been impossible. Because an alliance isn’t the same.” Berra stretches out again, and starts heading east, away from her Temple, at a tangent. This would lead to the Vingan Temple if she keeps going.

Varanis notices where they are and some emotion crosses her face briefly as she looks in the direction of her temple.1Berra rolls a special on insight. Result: Hard one to explain…. that’s the place where Varanis was seriously thinking of jumping. She’s ashamed and perhaps a bit scared by it, but also trying to avoid thinking about it. She shakes it off and keeps walking. “I wonder if that’s a path I should consider.”

“Well, the Rex is… it’s for people who are leaders, isn’t it?” Berra shrugs. “Unless you mean the alliance. But I think you should think in terms of alliance, not of leadership. The reason they shouldn’t follow you is that they shouldn’t. There isn’t a reason they should follow you. Instead, they should be part of a council. Does that make it easier?” She stops to begin the process of fastening her water bottle back onto her belt, then remembers her manners and offers it to Varanis instead.

Varanis nods, accepting the water. “Yes, it does,” she admits before taking a sip. She restoppers the bottle before returning it.

“Right. Now…” Berra closes her eyes, for a moment looking young and small, and then she opens them and she is all action again, tugging on the buckles on her belt, fastening her kit, her left hand briefly caressing Wind Tooth. “See, when you stop trying to define the world yourself, you can see the world. Do you want to go to the Temple? I was thinking we could pick up climbing gear and go down a cliff. I can’t go up one right now. But maybe best not – we shouldn’t be out too long.” All the words, all the talking, all falling over and rushing out, as she is used to.2Varanis gets a regular success on insight: Berra is a tumble of inner emotions, entirely different to the blank-eyed, overly calm Humakti who paced up the road from Wilmskirk.

“Let’s go back to the inn. I’m not really in a climbing mood today. Besides, you’ve given me a lot to think about, and it’s possible that I need to talk to Serala if she’s willing. I appreciate both the walk and the advice.” Although her words carefully do not say everything, what she does say is completely sincere.

Berra nods. “Stay out a bit longer?” she says. “I need to put a few things right in my head, and if I go for a run, I won’t come back for too long. I’ll likely lose myself in it.” Her features, always motile, often scowling, go through a dozen or so discrete emotions in the space of a dozen heartbeats.

“I can do that,” Varanis says. “Which direction shall we go?”

Berra closes her eyes for a few moments, and then the relaxation that she managed on the sparring ground is with her once more. “Any way. It does not matter.” Shoulders down and relaxed, head high, she smiles faintly. “The first thing, right now, is that you use this time. If it should be that we follow this path, and try to find my High Sword’s footsteps, then you can use the time. Irillo is a leader, right now. So is Finarvi. So is Serala, but in different ways. Watch and follow them, and make alliances with them, whether they know or not. Ask questions, but do not show weakness. Show trust. And rest.”

“How do you do that?” Varanis asks suddenly.

“Do what? Rest?” Berra looks confused. “You allow yourself to not worry, and you don’t feel bad about it.”

“No, not that. This,” she vaguely waves in Berra’s direction. “A moment ago, you were tense and full of competing emotions. But now… now you are calm. What were you thinking, and how did you change it?”

Berra stares, and then suddenly breaks into a laugh, and – of all things – a blush. “Uh… Oh. Um… it…. I saw D’Val do it once under a lot of stress and he was shouting at another Duck who was shouting at him and it was all really loud but about Humakti Duck things and then he saw me and he was just calm because I didn’t deserve shouting I think and it would have been wrong to do it so he didn’t and then I thought about how much he has to put up with like when four bandits saw me and I was Humakti they didn’t try for me but three Lunar deserters did because he’s a Duck and he has to live with it all the damned time and if he can be calm then I can. And please don’t tell him I said that. I think he would hate anyone to know. And he puts up with a lot. So I do it because he can.” Blurt, blurt, blurt. Pause. And a happy, proud, pleased look on thinking of her mentor. Berra stays relaxed, even though she looks embarrassed by the long, tumble-word admission.

“I wish I understood, Berra.” Varanis seems to look more confused, rather than less.

Berra sighs. “People exist in the world who are models for me. I’m glad I have D’Val the Sword. He shows me what is possible. That is not just swordplay, but behaviour. He gets impatient, but he does not react impatiently. He does not try to teach me that. He just lives it. So because he can, I try to. I’m getting better at it. But you don’t see the times I fail. Or rather, you do, because they get quite loud.”

Varanis laughs. “You? Loud?” Her smile is teasing.

“Quack.”

Varanis raises an eyebrow.

Berra sighs, contentedly. “So. I am full of thoughts about the Household of Death, but there is a thing I want to see if you have noticed. This could be a difficult conversation. It is about Truth.”

Varanis looks at the Humakti curiously.

Berra looks up at Varanis, patient and calm and not bubbling over.

“Something about Truth, that I might not have noticed?” Varanis remains curious, but is also uncertain.

“No, but Truth is at the basis of it. I wonder if you know why I argue with Dormal.”

“Because he doesn’t understand Truth as you do. He sees it as mutable and open to interpretation, but you see the essential nature of Truth.” The answer is quick, but not because it’s thoughtless. More because it’s something she has considered before.

“Almost. But it’s how he uses it. He says a thing that is a lie, but he says it so you can either be seen to push through it – and then he can call you a bully or push back, or threaten as he did with me earlier – or you can attack the lie, and then he can say you are noisy or argumentative. Because he makes a weapon of falsehood, not even because he uses it. That is not interpretation – that is using interpretation to win at what he wants to happen. Tactically, if you could represent it on a board, it would be a … no, not even tactics. It would be strategy. Always presenting the wrong choice, so that any choice that is made, he has already told you what the board looks like. I push back strongly because people need to know he is doing that, not because he does it.” She is, at least, staying calm. It’s a quiet, peaceful, precise explanation.

Varanis looks thoughtful. “I can understand why that would be anathema to you.”

“It’s dishonest in a way that is not lying. He tries to make people see that the world is as he sees it, by telling them what the options are. For a while, he had me believing it, even. I was angry at him, and trying to work out how to explain the anger or why he was wrong, and every explanation would just have served to let him say more things. But then I realised my feet were in his ground because he had planted them there and let me think I had come there freely. So I got them under me, and practiced, and to tell the truth now it is more of an annoyance than a matter of anger, but I say it each time because otherwise, other people might not. I argue when he pretends that we are all wrong together, because it needs to be done. It took me weeks to stop hating him and start understanding he had me off-balance but I did not have to be. Now, I can’t stop doing that. I know Serala sees some of it, but it’s not an easy thing to understand. You probably need to be a strategist, or at least, study rhetoric. Maybe. I don’t know. But that is a thing that is not going to go away, and your allies need to know that.”

“This is a difficult thing for some reason,” Varanis says. “I don’t believe he is a bad person. I think he is doing what he thinks is necessary. I know that you think that he puts himself first and foremost, but I believe he is doing what he thinks is right for the clan and Grandmother.”

“If I thought it was right to poison someone for your clan, should I?” Berra shrugs. “Doing the right thing for the wrong reason can be bad, too. But now you know why I say it. I’ve said enough there. Shall we go back?” There is obviously still something on her mind, but that part at least seems finished for her.


A moment later Berra snorts and even starts to open her mouth as if something has occurred to her, but she sticks to what she just said – she has said enough.

“No, you shouldn’t poison someone. And yes, we should go back.” Varanis doesn’t say anything further as they start to head in the direction of the inn. After some silence she says, “You aren’t done yet. There’s something more on your mind, isn’t there?”

“My High Sword,” says Berra in a small voice. “He cut himself off from his Regiment. For Duty. I… I just can’t think about it.”

Varanis replies, “I can’t even begin to understand how that must be for him, but perhaps it explains some of why he is the way he is.”

Berra shakes her head just a little, in awe. “Too much for me to understand. But… we should go back. Decide if we are going to follow this thing. You do that, with Irillo and your allies.” A faraway look is on her now, a touch of dreaminess, in with the peaceful, quiet expression.

On the way back, Berra asks, “Please, don’t let anyone know about me and D’Val. It really is a private thing, but you asked and I couldn’t help saying. He’s my inspiration and I never want anyone to make anything of that which makes me calm. It might break it.”

“I can respect your privacy, Berra,” Varanis promises.

Berra nods, almost eagerly. “Go make alliances, then. I’ll be sure my sword is sharp.”